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US data centers consuming as much power as 5 million houses

Power linesThere have been a lot of numbers thrown around in the last year about the power consumption of servers and data centers. For example, servers and their cooling are now said to consume more power than color TVs in the US.

To try and make a bit more sense out of the general information overflow, we here at Pingdom decided to put together some interesting facts and figures from different sources and add some calculations of our own to hopefully give a decently clear picture of the current situation.

How much power does ONE data center use?

  • One large, 50,000 square feet data center consumes around five megawatt of power.
  • Five megawatt is enough to power 5,000 houses.

Of course, there are data centers that use significantly more power. For example, Equinix is said to be building a data center with a server farm consuming up to 30 megawatts, which would be enough to power 30,000 houses.

How much power do all data centers consume in total?

  • Servers (and their cooling) in US data centers use the equivalent of a full year’s output from five 1,000 megawatt power plants.
  • That is as much power as the entire state of Mississippi.
  • Or enough to power five million houses.

It should be mentioned that even though the above numbers seem large, some of the data above is based on numbers for 2005, and don’t include other equipment involved, such as network equipment. We have almost three years of explosive data center expansions to add to that, and things aren’t exactly slowing down.

How fast are data centers expanding?

  • In 2003, there were 5.6 million servers used in US data centers.
  • In 2007, there were 11.8 million.

That’s more than a 2x increase in the number of servers in just four years.

What does the future look like?

Companies like Google, Microsoft and many others are aggressively expanding their infrastructure. For example, Bill Gates recently stated that Microsoft will soon have “many millions of servers”.

Considering that cooling currently uses as much energy as actually powering the servers, there are great environmental and cost benefits to be gained from improving energy efficiency, and there is plenty of research being done in that department.

If energy efficiency could improve just 20 percent, that would be a power saving equivalent to the output from an entire 1,000 megawatt power plant. Or, to continue the house analogy, enough to power one million houses.

The numbers in this article are of course estimates, but it’s not hard to see why power consumption has become a major cost factor for data centers.


Aside from the links above, we used information gathered from the following articles: Data Center Power Consumption: By the Numbers, Study: Data Center Power Usage Exploding, Is the Data Center Power Drain an Urban Myth?, Number of the Day: 11.8 Million.


And in other news, rain is wet, the pope is a Catholic, and bears generally prefer wooded areas in which to take a dump.


"Servers (and their cooling) in US data centers use the equivalent of a full year’s output from five 1,000 megawatt power plants." The phrase "a full year's" is inappropriate: You are talking about POWER not ENERGY. POWER is the RATE of using energy. You could use a Megawatt for a fraction of a second, or continue for years.


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